Shane Mauss

Shane Mauss (Photo: Courtesy of the artist)

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When you hear the word “enlightened,” it’s doubtful comedian Shane Mauss comes to mind. Not to say that he’s stupid or depends too much on riffs about flatulence and, uh, other matters of the posterior (though he does have those jokes). It’s just that a lot of his comedy seems to come from making bad decisions. For example, his 2015 album, My Big Break, is all about how he jumped off a cliff and broke both of his ankles at the same time. Sure, his telling of the incident is hilarious, but he also admits that he knew he was going to hurt himself before he leaped.

But Mauss’s standup is much different than his podcast Here We Are, which is focused on science, the benefits of psychedelics and the need for society to increase its “openness.” Each episode features Mauss interviewing scientists and experts, usually on heady topics such as using psychotherapy to treat PTSD and the perception of time. (There’s also an episode about sperm competition.) It’s a show with the goal of expanding his listeners’ consciousness, hosted by a comedian with a bit about man caves. And though it comes out semi-regularly, he now averages 50,000 downloads an episode.

Of all Mauss’s interests covered on the podcast, he spends the most time discussing psychedelics. An avid user who trips at least four times a year, usually more, the 36-year-old comedian now has an entire show called “A Good Trip” about his adventures on all kinds of mind-expanding drugs. Over the past few months, he’s sold out many of his nearly 100 dates — when I talked to him as he drove down the coast to Santa Cruz, he had sold out seven shows in a row. So we talked a lot about tripping, both the good and the bad, and a bit about his podcasting experience.

Interview edited for length and clarity..

After listening to your podcast, I have to say that you are one enlightened individual.

Flyer for "A Good Trip"
Flyer for “A Good Trip.”

Well thank you, but I have a long ways to go. What I tell myself all the time is that when I don’t feel like reading, I should just keep on reading because five years from now I’ll be smarter. A lot of people that are closed off — that are low on openness — view the future as scary because it’s unknown, and there’s nothing scarier than the unknown. They cling to the past and “whatever that I already knew is all that I need to know,” and that causes a lot of problems.

When you say “openness,” what do you mean?

There’s five personality traits that psychologists often study, and openness is one of them. We talk about it a fair amount on the podcast.

Openness really relates to political views. Most people are in the middle, but if you’re really high in openness, not only are you not scared of novelty and ambiguity, but you really thrive off of it. You like adventure and new experiences, and you’re probably inquisitive and creative. The downside is that you probably take a few too many chances in life. Sometimes people that are high in openness have no respect for authority — I fall into this category — and that can cause you some trouble.

If you’re low on openness, you’re the type of person that is much more into tradition and routine, and the past is very important to you. New experiences and outsiders can be scary.

It’s one of the most flexible traits that we have, and it’s less about genes than any other trait. It’s really just about getting out and searching for new experiences.

Did psychedelics have anything to do with increasing your openness?

I think so. My first psychedelic experience was when I took mushrooms when I was 15 years old. Psychedelics aren’t for everybody, but for a lot of people they work well, and for me, they just clicked with my brain. It was perfect. I was just searching and searching for any kind of escape from this little bubble I found myself in, and any ways of thinking differently about life. I didn’t like the way I saw the majority of the people around me in the small town in Wisconsin where I grew up.

As soon as I took psychedelics, it opened up everything, and that’s what psychedelics have been proven to do quite reliably: it literally opens you up. It makes you see different possibilities, which is a testable effect. But you don’t need drugs for that either. You can read different books that you’d never consider reading, you can travel more and have new experiences, maybe take on new hobbies. Maybe change your occupation, or start your own small business that you’ve always dreamed about. New experiences are beneficial, and psychedelics provide new experiences, but like, on steroids.

But that can sometimes be too much, too quickly. I know at least one person that took acid and hasn’t been the same since.

Ugh, I hear that so much about LSD. Once you get up around ten hits in a single dose… I’ve heard plenty of stories about people having waaaayyy too much one evening who never were the same after that. I don’t think they were any different chemically, it’s just that the experience itself can be traumatizing. If it’s too intense, you kind of develop a PTSD from it. Counterintuitively, psychedelic treatments have been known to correct some PTSD cases, and even schizophrenia.

But this is why I focus my show on the clinical use of psychedelic drugs, like MDMA. We’re sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), and they’re close to getting it legalized. MDMA could be the first psychedelic to be legal, but for clinical use only. I think that once psychedelics are able to be given in a safe, clinical environment, then that’s when I would start telling more people to give it a shot. Until that time, I’m not a big advocate of using psychedelics for recreational use, and I certainly don’t support using them as a party drug. I don’t think that’s what they’re all about. They’re therapeutic, meditative aids, and though there can be something special about doing psychedelics at a music festival, that’s also where most of the trouble happens. People go overboard with it and don’t know what they’re doing.

But I did appreciate what Rick Dobin, the founder of MAPS, said about one of your episodes about how taking psychedelics at a musical event can be a religious experience for some.

Mauss performing in 2013
Mauss performing in 2013. (Photo: Michael Schwartz/WireImage)

I did too, mainly because I’m biased against that very thing, only because that’s when things go wrong — when you’re not in a controlled environment and you’re with inexperienced people. I think years from now we could look at taking psychedelics in those situations, after we get things approved the right way, in clinics, train people how to use them in a sensible way, and find out what they’re all about.

Admittedly, I’ve never really had a bad trip. I guess I’ve had one, and I’ve had all sorts of difficult trips where I had to learn things about myself, but those are often the most rewarding. I’ve had fun with psychedelics, but I’m also really experienced, so I know not to overdo it. I went to go see David Gilmour on some acid earlier this year and it was like a religious experience. I was crying because it was so beautiful. But I also made sure I took a reasonable amount on a full stomach and had plenty of water.

Certainly, compared to alcohol, which caused me a lot of problems in my life and is one of the most pervasive, harmful drugs that exist, I think psychedelics could be a great alternative. People should be taking a break and analyzing their lives every once in a while.

What’s your opinion on microdosing?

I don’t have one. I think that starting with microdosing is a great idea, so you slowly work your way up instead of going, “I never tripped before, but let’s just go for it and do five hits of acid. I might as well get the full experience!”

But I’ve never microdosed. Every time I go to microdose, I just end up doing a full dose because… I… just feel like it.

Before you go: do you still have crates of those candles in beer mugs?

No, I think I gave the last three to my roommate as a joke.

Why did you buy crates of those candles again?

I wrote some joke about how there’s “mandles” — candles for men — and how whipped dudes are, like they’d be in a mall and get dragged into some candle store. Finally, they’d get frustrated and be like, “What about what I want to smell?!”

It was a joke I used five times on stage and then lost interest in. But after the second time I told it, I was so excited I bought hundreds of beer mug candles to sell after the show. So many beer mug candles! And then I stopped doing the joke because it just wasn’t working that well; it just wasn’t that funny. [Laughs]

Q.Logo.Break

Listen to Here We Are at herewearepodcast.com.

Author

Kevin L. Jones

Kevin Jones reports on the Bay Area arts scene for KQED. He loves his wife and two kids, and music today makes him feel old.